STEVE GADD, EDDIE GOMEZ, RONNIE CUBER & WDR BIG BAND: ‘Center Stage’ (Leopard)

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One of the most in-demand session drummers in the history of recorded music, the legendary Steve Gadd – whose myriad credits range from The Carpenters to Steely Dan – shows no sign of slowing down at the venerable age of 77. Nor does his partner in crime on this project, Puerto Rican double bassist Eddie Gomez, who’s the same age and is best remembered for his stellar work alongside the jazz pianist Bill Evans. Joining them is 80-year-old Ronnie Cuber, a baritone saxophone specialist who also has a long string of impressive session credits (everyone from George Benson to Dr. John and Billy Joel). 

Showing that age is no barrier to creative vitality, the trio – who played together as members of the Gadd Gang back in the 1980s – are supported by the relatively youthful Bobby Sparks III  and Simon Oslender (who both share keyboard duties) along with guitarist, Bruno Müller, who excels in channeling the soulful spirit of fretboard maven Eric Gale. Adding a glossy sheen and a good helping of razzamatazz to the proceedings is the WDR Big Band, under the skilled supervision of arranger/conductor Michale Abene.   

Opening with an ebullient version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ – whose classy R&B-meets-jazz arrangement evokes memories of Stuff, the ‘70s supergroup that Gadd played with – the album winds its way through a blend of covers and original material that attests to the undimmed musicality of its three central protagonists. Standouts range from vibrant interpretations of Buddy Miles’ ‘Them Changes’ and Otis Redding’s ‘Can’t Turn You Loose,’  both emphasizing the lively interplay between the soloists and the horn section, and a lovely reading of Italian singer/songwriter Pino Daniele’s haunting ballad ‘Che Ore So,’ a showcase for Cuber’s sensitive baritone work as well as Gomez’s inventive bass playing.  A demonstration of the trio’s affinity for the blues is revealed in their subtle reading of organ maestro Bill Doggett’s 1956 US R&B smash, ‘Honky Tonk’ which is dovetailed with the old Ray Charles hit, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You.’  

The album closes with the gospel-infused ‘My Little Brother,’ a song Gadd wrote and recorded on his 1984 solo album, ‘Gaddabout,’ which featured Ronnie Cuber; his baritone saxophone is also prominent on this new version, which features exquisite woodwind arrangements, and rounds off the album on a euphoric, feel-good note.  

In the world of pop music, where newness is celebrated at the expense of what is long established, youth is always equated with innovation but as this warmly satisfying album shows, there’s no substitute for the well-honed sense of craftsmanship that experience and maturity brings.  

(CW) 4/5

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